A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive

About the Autobiography of John Adams

"For my Children . . . I commit these Memoirs to writing." John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams"
From Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Adams's autobiography is a retrospective narrative of his life describing his youth and legal training through the spring of 1780 when he was in the midst of his second diplomatic assignment in Europe. Written between 1802 and 1807, this work is divided into three sections: "John Adams," "Travels, and Negotiations," and "Peace." Adams's manuscript autobiography ends somewhat abruptly in early 1780 and does not include descriptions of his work in Europe after that time, nor does the autobiography cover his vice presidency or presidency.

At the beginning of his autobiography, John Adams states that he is not writing for a broad public audience, but for his children. It appears as though John Adams wrote about half of the first section, "John Adams" from memory, but then realized his letterbooks, diaries, and other sources could be used to aid his recollections. Beginning on sheet 25 of part 1, "John Adams," (where he writes "I have omitted some things in 1775 which must be inserted") and continuing throughout parts 2 and 3, the manuscript work includes many copies of Congressional resolutions and letters he and his colleagues wrote during diplomatic negotiations in Europe.

Additional information about the autobiography

Manuscript collection information and physical description of the autobiography

John Adams's manuscript autobiography is part of the Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This manuscript is 440 pages long and it is comprised of folded sheets and a few additional inserted sheets. John Adams subdivided his autobiography into three parts, "John Adams" (53 folded sheets), "Travels, and Negotiations" (37 folded sheets), and "Peace" (18 folded sheets). The sheets are numbered sequentially within each part and most sheets are comprised of 4 pages. The autobiography was microfilmed in 1954 and the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive presents grayscale images made from the microfilm.

About the transcriptions of the autobiography

The purpose of the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive is to present images of manuscripts alongside the corresponding transcriptions; this website is not intended to be an online documentary edition. For more details, please see Information about the transcriptions on this website.

Additional information about this website

For information about using this website, including a description of the display features of the online manuscripts, please refer to the About this website section.